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After studying decision-making for 20 years, consultant Cheryl Strauss Einhorn has uncovered a series of myths that lead us to go astray. At the top is the notion that we ideally should be decision-making machines – quick and efficient. That means jumping right in and making the decision as soon as possible.

“But to be truly effective, we need to be clear on what we are solving for. Rushing can lead you to make a decision based on the wrong factors, which ultimately will lead to regret,” she warns in Harvard Business Review.

A related myth is that decision-making is linear. In fact, good decision-making is circular, requiring a feedback loop in which you gather information and analyze it – as well as your own thinking. At times you’ll need to go back and study information you didn’t pay much attention to initially or gather new information or try a different approach to your analysis.

With so many factors to consider in many workplace decisions it’s also a myth that you can pull all the ideas together in your head. “Large decisions are made up of multiple smaller decisions. When we try to keep all of those moving parts in our mind, we end up relying on a faulty memory and a distracted mind. Our emotions can also get in the way, leading to biased thinking,” she says. So keep a record of the information and the thinking behind your decisions.

Trusting your gut is often celebrated these days – it certainly can be efficient – but she says it’s a myth that the approach is a good way to make a decision when you move from picking a breakfast cereal to making a major decision. Similarly, beware of believing you know what’s right and just need to spend a little time getting data to confirm your opinion. That’s known as confirmation bias, and has been the source of many horrendous bad decisions.

Another myth is believing the decision is yours to make alone – you don’t need to involve others. Decisions affect others and ignoring the bigger picture of who else is affected can, she says, “at best, only partially solve the problem, and may exacerbate it.”

She urges you to put a speed bump in your decision-making process that forces you to pause, see the whole picture, and reflect on what you’re thinking. That’s supported by consultant Art Petty, who points out everything in today’s business culture rewards immediacy – fast answers and quick-to-respond individuals. Invest time in discussing and defining the problem from multiple perspectives and then generating different solutions.

At the same time, he advises you to rein in aimless or runaway group discussions, using a systematic approach like Edward De Bono’s Six Decision-Making Hats that cuts down on the amount of wandering in circles. And as well as writing down the reasons for a decision, keep a record of the decisions you have taken, choose a time to come back and evaluate how each fared, and figure out what can be learned about your decision-making.

With those warnings, it may be foolhardy to consider a series of terse decision-making principles. But James Trunk, vice-president of engineering at Griffin Capital, offers some provocative insights, urging you to pick:

  • Long-term over short.
  • Simple over easy.
  • Fast feedback on the impact of your decision over delayed assessment and possible failure
  • Experiment over opinion – don’t argue; test.
  • Learning over stagnation. Can you learn from an action being considered?
  • Innovation over safe bets.

Those are worth keeping in mind when faced with a decision. As well, don’t stick just with his. He urges you to write down your own values. Then think of words and phrases that relate to the behaviours or outcomes involved in attaining those values. Finally, develop your own guiding principles, using the “x over y” format, and apply it with future decisions.

Quick hits

  • If you didn’t do something yesterday to get closer to one of your goals, then no matter how busy you were you were not productive, argues consultant Steve Keating.
  • Executive coach Amy Jen Su advises you to define your contributions and passions as a parent: Which of the parental tasks and activities does your child value the most and which give you the most motivation, inspiration and energy? Be wary of activities that are high in contribution but low in passion since those might drain you. Also be alert to those that are low in contribution – your kids not enthused, their tastes perhaps having changed – but you are passionate about.
  • Get your Zoom calls in early each day. It reduces fatigue, compared with when they are later in the day, says Emily Campion, an assistant professor of management at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, V.A.
  • Poor time management in an interview can cost you the job, warns executive recruiter Gerald Walsh. Always check how much time you have, and plan accordingly, preparing for questions you expect to be asked and mapping out three or four key points to make in the interview.
  • To develop a daily reflection habit, financial analyst Manal Ghosain suggests attaching it to an existing action, such as waking up, taking a shower, eating lunch, or brushing your teeth.

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